Unbelievably it’s 40 years since Elvis Presley’s death. Here we take a look back at how he started, his lasting legacy and ask just why he got us all so shook up
On August 16 1977, Elvis finally left the building for good. But looking around today, you wouldn’t always know it. For across the world, the Elvis legacy is alive and rocking not only through the thousands of Elvis impersonators, touring shows and tribute acts, but also in the millions of his records that continue to sell and top the charts, decades after his passing.
It seems now, just as when he started out back in the Fifties, we can’t help falling in love with the boy from Tupelo who became the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Born on January 8, 1935, the second of two identical twin brothers, the first of which was sadly stillborn, Elvis grew up devoted to the gospel music he listened to in church and the R&B he heard on the streets. Rock ‘n’ roll was already around but little did he realise that he’d become the Pied Piper, spreading this new style of music around the world, causing an earthquake in music and youth culture.
John Lennon once said, “before Elvis there was nothing” and when Elvis’s first commercial single, That’s All Right (Mama) landed on vinyl players, everyone exclaimed they’d never heard anything like it before.
Elvis soon gained national attention and in 1956 his record Heartbreak Hotel, inspired by a newspaper article about a man who had killed himself and left a suicide note beginning, “I walk a lonely street,” sent him to the top of the pop singles chart. Hit after hit followed so that he’d sold ten million records within the first ten months of 1956 including Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel.
But it wasn’t just his fabulous singing voice that caught our attention. His hips, from the very beginning, had a mind of their own and as he appeared on TV shows, fans began to fall into screaming hysterics as he gyrated around the stage.
The press and many viewers wrote in to protest against his ‘obscene’ moves, prompting producers to shoot his performances from the waist up. But the more people complained, the more we loved him, blasting out his records to practise our own hip swivelling.
For the first time ever, a teenage rebellion was brewing and Elvis’s anti-establishment attitude and wiggling pelvis was at the forefront of the charge.
Elvis was at the pinnacle of his success when in 1957 he was drafted into the US military, following a short deferment to finish production on his film King Creole – just one of the 30-plus movies he starred in. He even got the famous GI haircut, which only served to make us love him more. Then our hearts were broken when he began a seven-and-a-half-year courtship with Priscilla Beaulieu – whom he married in 1967.
Despite his stratospheric fame, enormous wealth and rhinestone-studded lifestyle, Elvis always kept a sense of humour. Performing Are You Lonesome Tonight? in Las Vegas once, he changed the lyrics just to amuse himself and instead of singing ‘Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?’ he sang ‘Do you look at your bald head and wish you had hair?’ He had humility too and was always thankful for his success, regularly answering fan mail and greeting fans. He’d often close concerts with the song If I Can Dream, expressing his gratitude to the fans who made his dream come true. Such a loss that he left us aged just 42.
Forty years after his death Elvis remains a huge commercial success, having now sold an estimated one billion records worldwide.
Just last year a collection of his hits, reworked and recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra titled, The Wonder of You, hit the No.1 album spot, earning him the most No.1 albums of any solo artist ever – an astonishing 60 years after his first British chart topper!
Recently, he’s returned in hologram form with other musicians on stages around the world and last year ranked fourth in the Forbes’ list of the highest-earning dead celebrities, bringing in $27 million.
Number one was Michael Jackson, (left) with $825 million, number two the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip Charles Schulz ($48 million), and number three, golfing legend Arnold Palmer, with $40 million.
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